JERUSALEM — With the June 3 passing of Sen. Frank Lautenberg, New Jersey no longer has any Jewish representatives among its congressmen and senators in Washington.
Mark Dunec hopes to change that. The Livingston resident is running for Congress in New Jersey’s 11th Congressional District, which encompasses 54 municipalities across parts of Essex, Morris, Passaic, and Sussex counties.
An Orthodox Jew, Dunec attends the Synagogue of the Suburban Torah Center in Livingston and sends his children to Livingston’s Joseph Kushner Hebrew Academy.
Dunec will be running in the Democratic primary in hopes of earning the party’s support to challenge veteran Republican incumbent Rodney Frelinghuysen in the November 2014 election. In an effort to get a jumpstart on his competition, Dunec has joined the race early and has begun campaigning.
Dunec was on his seventh visit to Israel last week, where he came to the Knesset and met with legislators in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition. It was his first visit without his wife, Caryn, and children David, nine, and Renee, seven.
Following the meetings, Dunec endorsed the two-state solution as a means of solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict but vowed to let Israel and its neighbors decide on their own how to solve their problems.
“I don’t believe in imposing my ideas on the two parties,” Dunec told NJJN in a June 5 interview in Knesset cafeteria. “The Israeli government and the Palestinians need to come to an agreement, and any agreement they come to I will support.”
Dunec called Lautenberg “an American icon and a huge man in New Jersey politics and the Jewish community.” But, he said, his hero in American politics is former Connecticut senator Joseph Lieberman.
“He had a successful career without sacrificing his beliefs, and I intend to do the same,” Dunec said. “He did a big kiddush Hashem,” a sanctifying of God’s name.
Like Lieberman, Dunec, a management consultant, does not wear his kipa at work. That has been his policy in his business career, and he said he will do the same in politics.
He does not intend to campaign on Shabbat, he said, and, even though it is possible in his district, he won’t go shul-hopping by foot on Saturday the way Israeli politicians do, stressing that Shabbat is family time. Unusual for an Orthodox Jew, he is pro-choice on abortion and in favor of marriage equality for gays and lesbians.
“Gay people should have the same federal rights as heterosexual couples,” he said. “I’m an Orthodox Jew, and I don’t think that is contradictory. Jews who speak lashon hara [malicious gossip] are still Orthodox. That’s not me being liberal. I don’t think anything I said is contradictory in any way.”
In Israel, Dunec spent Shabbat with college students on Hasbara Fellowships, an Aish International program that trains Israel advocates on campuses across North America that is headed by Rabbi Elliott Mathias, who is also a member of the Community Relations Committee of the Jewish Federation of MetroWest NJ and chair of its “Step Up for Israel” campaign.
While he did not visit any Arab countries on this trip, Dunec has been to Cairo and Dubai on business. Despite his campaign schedule, he still works full-time at his global management consulting firm, FTI Consulting.
Dunec, who earned an MBA in finance, bills himself as a “professional problem solver.” He said the new solutions he would bring to Washington will create new jobs and improve the economy.
“We need more business-minded folks in Congress to deal with the real issues of the day,” he said. “People are fed up with business as usual, so I think in the election they will decide to go in a different direction.”
In the 2012 election in Dunec’s district, Democratic candidate John Arvanites lost by a wide margin, 59-40 percent. He did not even win municipalities won by Democratic candidates for president and senator.
“We Democrats just haven’t had the right candidate in this district,” Dunec said when asked how he felt about running for a seat that has traditionally gone Republican. “The incumbent is a decent man; he has been in Congress since 1995, but he doesn’t do anything.”
Asked whether he considers being Jewish an asset in his district, he said he does not see it as an asset or as a liability. “It really shouldn’t matter,” he said. “The way I’m going to win is people are getting to know me, and the more they get to know me, the more likely it is that I will win.”